WHAT DO TRAVEL AGENTS & INTERIOR DESIGNERS HAVE IN COMMON?

“Hiring a professional to do something you could yourself can be a good idea or a bad one. It comes down to the value you receive.”The Seattle Times, July 2011

 

I just got off the phone with my travel agent. 

Yes, I might be one of the few who still resort to this ‘dated’ practice, when it’s so easy to book your own travel plans online.

But here’s the thing.

Spur of the moment, my husband and I decided to plan a trip to Hawaii.

We called our favorite hotel and were told there was limited room availability at the start of the holidays – plus prices would be higher than usual.

Then we attempted to reserve a flight on the airline’s website, only to learn there was only room for one of us on any given flight.

Clearly, this wouldn’t do.

Enter the travel agent.

The beauty of working with a travel agent is that, for a minimal fee ($35 in our case) she was able to book a flight – for both of us – plus a hotel room at a reasonable rate.

She did all this, and saved us about $2000.

I compare hiring a travel agent to hiring an interior designer. I think you’ll be amazed by the similarities!

 

Expensive? Says Who?

Hiring a travel agent, or interior designer – or any professional, for that matter – won’t necessarily cost you more.

Changes are, you will even save money in the end.

This is because interior designers not only know the ins and outs of their business, they also know where to find you the best deals.

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YOUR HOME AWAY FROM HOME

You know that sterile feeling you get in a hotel room?

There’s that sense of expectation – wondering what you’ll find beyond the closed door, before you’ve even stepped over the threshold.

At that moment, your bodies is in full “perception” mode, instinctively taking in everything about your surroundings.

In the end, though, it might feel inviting but completely generic – with no trace whatsoever of the previous occupants.

Last week’s trip to Atlanta was no different.

I did the usual quick assessment of my room, which seemed to be comfortably furnished and attractive.

After I few minutes, I noticed the room was actually speaking to me.

I don’t mean that in a ‘woo woo’ kind of way – it really spoke!

There were messages everywhere that said things like “Drink Me”, “Refresh” or “Need Something?”

Even the bath mat said “Step” – as in “step into the shower”.

It was fun and a bit quirky.

Did it make me feel more at home?

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WHAT IS YOUR COMFORT ZONE?

As any well-seasoned traveler can attest, navigating airports these days is often a challenge. We may encounter any number of inconveniences from long wait times to erupting volcanoes.

Have you ever noticed, while traveling, what your level of comfort might be at any given point during your trip?

In fact, depending on your hotel accommodations, or your in-flight experience, you may actually be more aware of a lack of Comfort, than anything else.

Of course, on an airplane, being seated in First Class is the way to go if you’re looking for comfort and some in-flight pampering.

Yet, for those of us sitting in Coach, it is often a very different experience.

On a recent flight, I found myself seated next to a mother and her young baby. The woman had not booked a seat for her child, and was hoping I might not show up.

The baby was perfectly happy until she had to give up her seat and be held firmly on her mothers’ lap. At that point, she let out a blood-curdling scream of protest.

Comfortable I was not.

The baby clearly needed a seat of her own, and I needed some peace and quiet. Much to my relief, the stewardess ushered me to a new seat in one of the exit rows.

I now had plenty of leg-room, the baby had a seat several rows behind me and well out of earshot, and all was well with the world.

I was very comfortable.

On any given day, our comforts levels are frequently tested, and for each of us, that definition is unique.

And when it comes to our homes – well, there is almost no end to the number of ways consumers can pamper themselves with what seems comfortable to them.

Whether selecting furniture, linens, paint colors, fabrics or household appliances – and that’s just naming a few – you will be faced with many decisions.

However, before you choose, why not step back and ask yourself the following very important question.

What does Comfort mean to you?

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HOW TO DEAL WITH THE UNEXPECTED

I’m not sure I need any more surprises, but even as I write this, the lights keep flickering, leading me to believe we might lose power any minute.

How apropos.

If we do lose power, so be it – if I’ve learned anything over the past few days, it’s that I will invariably get by.

You see, I was traveling this past week.

What was expected to be a brief, 3-day trip to Asheville, NC turned into a full week away from home.

By the second day of my travels, I suddenly found myself dealing with several unexpected snafus – a huge snowstorm in Seattle, which resulted in delayed travel plans, plus a phone call from my son saying he’d been stricken with a severe case of food poisoning.

Talk about the unexpected!

It was time to take a deep breath and assess my situation. In the end, the experience taught me a few things:

 

A Perceived Setback Could Be a Blessing in Disguise

In my case, while the blizzard in Seattle prevented my immediate return, it also opened up space for an entirely different opportunity. I flew to Austin, Texas instead, where my son was in need of some TLC.

Likewise, the unwelcome snags, or delays, in your home improvement project might actually lead to an even better solution. Rather than fight it, why not go with the flow?

In my humble opinion, things have a tendency to unfold exactly as they were meant to all along.

 

Prepare Ahead of Time

Chances are the unexpected is going to happen, especially when you travel.

From now on, I plan to pack an extra change of clothes, even if it seems totally unnecessary. A pair of sandals can’t hurt either, cause you never know where you might end up (it was sunny and 78 degrees in Austin).

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HOW TO TRAVEL ‘GREEN’

Ah, the joys of travel.                      

Not only do we have to deal with the hassles of flying, but other healthy habits such as diet and exercise often fly out the window, adding to our level of frustration and fatigue.

I know it can be very hard to maintain our eco-friendly ways while on the road. We tend to opt for convenience when crunched for time, or when we’re tired and far from home.

Still, it is possible, and needn’t take too much effort.

So here are my tips on How to Travel Green:

 

Stay Hydrated

While it’s definitely important to stay hydrated while traveling, I think it’s equally important to consider the type of bottle you’re drinking out of.

Yet, how does one maintain proper fluid intake without going through gallons of water packaged in plastic bottles?

My method isn’t foolproof, but here it is:  I travel with a stainless steel water bottle. I empty it prior to passing through airport security, then request a refill at the nearest Starbucks.

A friend of mine gave me this tip a few years ago, and it really works!

Your second option is to buy bottled water, refill the stainless steel bottle, and then recycle the plastic container in the nearest recycle bin.

It may not always be possible to find a recycle bin, but I think this is more about doing what you can. Every little bit helps!

Remember – you’re travelling. It isn’t going to be perfect. If it comes down to choosing between quenching your thirst and staying ‘green’ – personally, I would choose the water every time.

 

Linens & Things

Have you noticed that more and more hotels are giving you an option whether to have your sheets and towels changed on a daily basis?

Sure, the luxury and pampering that comes with fresh linens every night is definitely nice, but is it really necessary?

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HOW TO TRAVEL ‘GREEN’

Ah, the joys of travel.                                  

Not only do we have to deal with the hassles of flying, but other healthy habits such as diet and exercise also often fly out the window, which only adds to our level of frustration and fatigue.

For myself, I have the added challenge of travelling with gluten intolerance and food allergies, so staying ‘Green’ can seems fairly low on the list.

I know it can be very hard to maintain our eco-friendly ways while on the road. We tend to opt for convenience when crunched for time, or when we’re tired and far from home.

Still, it is possible, and needn’t take too much effort.

So here are my tips on How to Travel Green:

Staying Hydrated

Yes, it’s definitely important to stay hydrated while traveling, especially while in the air. But my point here is more about the bottle you drink out of, than your fluid intake.

Yet, how do you do that without going through gallons of water packaged in plastic bottles?

My method isn’t foolproof, but here it is:  I travel with a stainless steel water bottle. I empty it prior to passing through security at the airport, then request a refill at the nearest Starbucks.

A friend of mine gave me this tip a few years ago, and it really works!

Your second option is to buy bottled water, refill the stainless steel bottle, and then recycle the plastic container in the nearest recycle bin.

It may not be possible to find a recycle bin every time you need one, but I think this is more about doing what you can. Every little bit helps!

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DRIVING THE USA

What I love about travel is the unexpected adventures that can happen along the way.

Rock 'n Soul Museum, Memphis, TN

Like pulling into a roadside park and being told by the gate attendant that the park is ‘clothing optional’.

In that particular scenario, I’m sure the driver and I both wore a ‘deer in the headlights’ expression as we contemplated this fact and in unison responded:

“What?”

Then, a hurried “Is there a place we could turn around?”

As soon as we pulled through the gate we burst out laughing, one of those laughs that completely fills you up with joy and giddiness.

But that was another trip, and another adventure.

I’ve just accompanied my son on a cross-country drive from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Austin, Texas.

We completed this trip in four days. Time was of the essence.

So there were no side trips, and little sightseeing. But we drove through miles and miles of countryside and breathtaking scenery as we passed through each state into the next in our comfortable, air conditioned car.

Virginia Tech University

One thing’s for certain, we live in a vast and beautiful country!

From the lush, rolling hills of Virginia to the flat, dry countryside that envelops Arkansas and Texas, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the experience.

Although the nine hour drive from Virginia to Memphis was maybe a bit much. (more…)

I THINK I NEED A DOG

I was browsing hotels on-line for an upcoming road trip, when I happened upon an upscale hotel chain that provides guests with a Heavenly Bed and a Heavenly Bath.                      

Sounds heavenly.

Then I read that it’s OK to bring your 40lb dog, at no extra charge and you can even request a Heavenly Dog Bed!

Now, that’s service!

The Heavenly Bed, as it’s called, (for humans) features a “custom-designed, foot-thick pillowtop mattress with all-white bedding; triple sheeting; down duvet; and five pillows (two goose down/feather, two hypo-allergenic, and a decorative “boudoir” neck roll pillow)”.

Wow.

I’d love to know what the Heavenly Dog Bed looks like!

So yes, I’m off on a road trip early this month. I’m meeting up with my son in rural Pennsylvania, as he makes his way back to Austin, TX for the fall term of graduate school.

Many years ago, when my family moved to Seattle, we drove all the way from Toronto, which was a ten day road trip. Being young and adventurous, I thought it was a blast.

To this day, the highlights I remember were Mt. Rushmore, the Corn Palace (ever been there?) and of course, Yellowstone National Park.

We arrived in Yellowstone on July 1, and were welcomed by an enormous blizzard. Coming from Canada, we weren’t too fazed by this, although it was a bit confusing for the first of July.

Lucky for us, we had an ice-scraper in the car. This made us very popular the next morning in the parking lot, as fellow hotel guests prepared to dig themselves out of the snow.

My most recent memorable road trip was to Frank Lloyd Wright’s infamous Fallingwater.

So, it’s time for another road trip, and I’m looking forward to it! I hope to see you back here over the next few weeks as I share trip updates and photos.

WHAT IS YOUR COMFORT ZONE?

“Ah, there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” Jane Austen

As any well-seasoned traveler can attest, navigating airports these days is often a challenge.                                       

While many of us have experienced delays and long wait times, it’s not everyday that erupting volcanoes are added to the mix.

Which goes to show that just about anything can happen.

During your travels, have you ever noticed what your comfort level might be at any given point during your trip?

Or perhaps you were more aware of a lack of comfort, than anything else.

Of course, on an airplane, being seated in First Class is the way to go if you’re looking for comfort and some in-flight pampering. Yet, for those of us sitting in Coach, it is often a very different experience.

On a recent flight, I found myself seated next to a mother and her eighteen month old baby. The woman had not booked a seat for her child – she was hoping I might not show up.

The baby was perfectly happy until she had to give up her seat and be held firmly on her mothers’ lap. At that point, she let out a blood-curdling scream of protest.

Comfortable I was not.

The baby clearly needed a seat of her own, and I needed some peace and quiet. Much to my relief, the stewardess ushered me to a new seat in one of the exit rows.

I now had plenty of leg-room, the baby had a seat several rows behind me and well out of earshot, and all was well with the world.

I was very comfortable.

On any given day, our comforts levels are frequently tested, and for each of us, that definition is unique.

And when it comes to our homes – well, there is almost no end to the number of ways consumers can pamper themselves with what seems comfortable to them.

Whether selecting furniture, linens, paint colors, fabrics or household appliances – and that’s just naming a few – you will be faced with many decisions.

However, before you choose, why not step back and ask yourself the following very important question.

What does Comfort mean to you?

While you mull that over, here’s another tidbit of information:  there was a time in history when Comfort, as a concept, didn’t even exist.

No-one thought about it, no-one even knew about it.

And if people didn’t know there was such as thing as Comfort, well, they certainly didn’t miss it.

This was certainly true of the Middle Ages, right up until the 18th century. That’s when the French finally caught on, and starting to create infinitely more comfortable furniture , and noticeably more elegant room settings, that were far superior  to what had been available in the past.

Along with the absence of Comfort, the notion of Privacy – something else that most of us take for granted – was also a foreign concept.

As in non-existent.

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Want to learn more about Comfort and the Home? Sign up for my monthly e-zine and get this months’ feature article  THE POWER OF COMFORT.

"GOGH"ING TO CHICAGO

Thorne Room Collection - miniature 18th century English Entrance Hall of the Georgian Period c.1775

Miniature 18th Century English Entrance Hall

Well, I am not so much going to Chicago as returning.

Last week I traveled to Chicago with a group of  fellow docents from the Seattle Art Museum.

As you might imagine, our trip was heavily focused on art and architecture, due to a shared love of art and design.

With a few goals in mind, we set off to explore the city, beginning with a scenic tour on the top level of a  double decker bus.

As the tour guide talked, the wind kicked up a storm. (I would suggest bringing a hat, except that it would likely not remain on your head for very long).

Still, this trolley will take you anywhere you want to go. You can get on and off at will, and continue the journey at whatever pace you choose.

Did you know that Chicago’s nickname “The Windy City” has nothing to do with the weather?

Seems the term “windy” was in reference to some rather windy politicians. It was ironic to hear this tidbit of information while the wind was blowing off the lake and whipping our hair.

It was an educational moment.

Our next stop was the Art Institute of Chicago, a museum that has been high on my list for many years. Up until now, I’d never had the opportunity to see it.

So many famous paintings and other treasures were on view, that it literally took my breath away. I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon browsing through gallery after gallery, taking in one surprise after another.

The Van Gogh painting of “The Bedroom” below, has been an all-time favorite of mine.  What a delightful surprise it was to find that it was at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Being the Van Gogh fan that I am, I don’t know how this small detail eluded me.

VanGogh 'Bedroom' at the Chicago Art Institute
VanGogh ‘Bedroom’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

This famous painting is an intimate portrait of Van Gogh’s bedroom, when he lived in the Yellow House, in Arles. This is the same house that he shared, briefly, with Gauguin before their famous fight that ended with Van Gogh cutting off part of his left ear.

Yet it is a simply furnished, tranquil room that offers no hint of what was to come.

I am such a fan of this painting, that I even have a miniature version of it in my home.

Speaking of miniatures, I have to admit that the absolute highlight for me was viewing the Thorne Rooms, located on the lower level of the museum.

I first learned of these miniature rooms many years ago, and vowed that I would eventually have the opportunity to see them in person. Well, I finally had that chance, and it exceeded my wildest expectations.

Suffice it to say, that the level of craftsmanship that went into creating this collection of 68 period rooms, all in miniature scale, is absolutely incredible.

But then, Mrs. Thorne, the woman behind the visions, had the financial means to do so. She employed the best artisans to carry out her designs, and never settled for second-best.

The amazing result transports one to a different world, where you can travel back in time to 16th century France, England, or even early American homes, dating back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, if not before.

In every room, there are clear signs of an unknown occupant. For whatever reason, that person has just vacated the room, leaving behind a teeny tiny book resting on the sofa, with a pair of miniscule spectacles nearby.

A table is set for tea, complete with teapot and porcelain teacups. On the sideboard, there might be a silver coffee service, with an interrupted embroidery project resting near a window. A multitude of miniature books lines the bookshelves.

Every room contains one or more windows, and the attention to detail extends to the views outside. Trees provide much needed shade in the heat of summer, and flowers bloom in the garden. We can see a hint of the house next door, or a city street in the dead of winter.

It is a place where imaginations can thrive.

Frank Lloyd Wright "Prairie Style" Home

Frank Lloyd Wright "Prairie Style" Hom

On our final day in Chicago, we took a two hour Architectural Walking Tour, that wove thru city streets and told the story of Chicago’s architectural history.

The architectural styles changed from classical to Art Deco, and hints of something in between. The tour included the Auditorium building by architectural firm Adler & Sullivan -currently hosting the Joffrey Ballet.

Next we took the subway out to Oak Park, IL  for the second architectural tour of the day, this one featuring the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in an up-scale neighborhood of leafy trees and manicured lawns. This is where Frank Lloyd Wright got his start as an up-and-coming architect.

This house was one of his earliest works, designed in his “Prairie” style: horizontal emphasis, obscure entryways (i.e not obvious from the street where the front door might typically be), and small, compact interiors with more open floor plans than what had been the norm up until that time.

Another surprise awaited us, as a small group of us walked a different route back to the train station. Rounding a corner, we came across Wright’s famed Unity Temple.

We climbed the steps to the front door, which to our delight, was unlocked. Within seconds, a guard appeared, telling us the building was closed for the day.

“We’re here from Seattle” we lamented, “We’re headed home tomorrow – please could we take a quick look?”

The guard studied us a moment, then relented. “I’ll give you one minute”, he said.

But it was enough.

We entered the sanctuary of the church, drew in our breath at the stillness and beauty of the space, then left.

It was a wonderful trip and I hope you have enjoyed these little snippets.  To see more photos, visit my Chicago photo album at my Facebook page!